The Industry Mindset

Deciding where to live after academia.

Academia often puts our lives on hold. We don’t usually get to think about or even choose where to live. As we approach the end of academia, we get to re-set and intentionally choose where to live based on our own happiness.

It’s a strange thought really isn’t it – “Where should I live?”. It’s not usually something we give much attention to, but at the end of an academic chapter we are no longer held hostage so to speak by our academic commitments. This subsequently opens a door of possibilities. The main reason we want to talk about where to live after academia is because it will directly impact your job opportunities, lifestyle, and your overall happiness. It’s important we get this choice right.

Academia usually puts a ‘pause’ on our lives. We’re often tied down to a year, 3-year, or possibly 5+ year agreement with our careers. We agree to sit tight for the time being. It also means we usually put other things on hold; having a family, our work life balance, our pension, holidays and vacations we always wanted to do, or simply other ambitious because we have to finish academia first before we can start thinking about our other passions and goals.

This post sits at that very juncture, where you’re close to finishing your academic commitment and thinking about your next chapter. As part of that decision for your next chapter, deciding where to live is going to be a factor in that choice. First things first, do you want to live somewhere for an experience (typically something more short-term), or somewhere you want to settle down for more stability? Neither is right or wrong, as it’s solely dependent on your personal preferences.

If we’re looking for something more short-term, it’s likely you’ll be thinking about somewhere abroad that has a vibrant culture, different way of life, more sunshine and so forth. Generally speaking, our mindset for such moves are based around the idea of living abroad for a short period of time – anywhere between 6 months to a few years – and then eventually ‘returning’ to your home country, or a different one, to settle down into a different lifestyle.

The short-term option is great for a range of reasons, it gives you a sense of freedom, can break you from the monotony and repetition of academia, and more importantly – allows you to have a full system reset on what you want to do. We’re often so caught up in the academic culture and the post-doc revolving door that we forget what the rest of the world has to offer. In effect, we’re programmed by academia to remain on the conveyor belt.

Staying in academia isn’t necessarily bad, and can give many people a sense of impact, enjoyment and fulfilment. The problem arises when you fall into autopilot just continuing to keep doing the things you do for the sake of doing them – not because you want to. Over time, this is what breeds unhappiness and resentment to research. Taking a short-term living arrangement somewhere else creates the necessary head space to decide whether this is something you want to do or not for the long term.

The short-term adjustment enables you to focus more on the things you’ve avoided or not been able to do during academia. Travelling, experiencing new cultures, learning a new language are good example of this. You’re deciding on where to live based on your bucket list. We don’t want to get into the later parts of our life regretting things we haven’t been able to do. With the headspace granted by this experience it’s likely you’ll begin to re-calibrate and over time, start to think about the world of work and your career, and possibly you’re entire life in a new life. That’s a slightly different process and beyond the scope of this post but deciding what to do after your PhD/academia is discussed extensively elsewhere on this site. If you haven’t already, we encourage you to check back here when you reach this point.

On the flip side of things, we may look to start thinking about settling down or at least laying the foundation for our long-term life as we progress further into our adult lives. Again, academia can hold you hostage where you may delay starting a family, having children, pursuing your ideal salary goals, living in the city you want to, or even the type of property you live in because you’re managing your budget due to the financial struggles of academia.

Again, at this point we need a re-set because the whole world opens up with infinite possibilities. To help aid your decision it’s encouraged to take a pause and get that headspace you deserve – similar to what you would get if you lived abroad for a little bit. Taking a holiday, deciding not to dive straight into work, or possibly even doing weekend retreats in the run up to your PhD viva can help you start to retrain and re-think about your long-term future.

Just like a short-term decision, there’s lots of different reasons to choose where to live – especially when you’re thinking more long-term. Having said that, the reasons for picking a short-term destination are unlikely to be the same ones for a long-term place to lay roots. You’re more likely to compromise on certain life values and aspirations for the short-term, but not so much (or at least you probably shouldn’t) for the long-term. As always, this comes back to your life values. Your long-term planning should centre around your happiness and the things in life that you’ll find the most fulfilling. Here, you’re likely to think about the more functional parts of your life as opposed to the exciting ones – as you should. The local language, types of food, job opportunities, schools in the local area, type of healthcare available, and so forth.

To be able to make this decision you need to really get an understanding of your life values, what is important to you, and what you want to get out of your life over the next 5-10 years. It’s about making more purposeful decisions based on where you live to help enable you to realise and achieve everything you set out to do. The sooner you’re able to identify and pinpoint what those driving factors or goals are for you – the easier it will be to decide on where you want to live.  

As always, there is no right or wrong answer to this question – only the one that will be the most meaningful and fulfilling to you. One persons’ chosen destination is unlikely to be the same as somebody else’s. It’s a hard choice to make on your own or even with your loved ones – but making a hard choice is better than just going along with the flow before you realise it’s too late to decide.

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